A New Stage


As the official opening of the Chan Centre approached, the excitement within the UBC School of Music and the wider community was palpable.

Jesse Read, who served as the Director of the School of Music from 1996 to 2007, had seen the development from its earliest days. He was on the committee that selected Bing Thom Architects and consulted with the design team about the school’s needs and wants; he visited the site when it was literally a hole in the ground; and he saw the massive steel canopy sitting on the stage before it was plated with gold leaf and raised. “It was astonishing,” he says.

Read will never forget that opening night. The music was selected to demonstrate the concert hall’s remarkable acoustical breadth: Robert Silverman and Jane Coop performed Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos in E-flat major; James Fankhauser conducted Canadian composer Srul Irving Glick’s aptly named The Hour Has Come; and a large choir and orchestra performed Beethoven’s magnificent Symphony No.9.


“It was such an exuberant, exciting sense right from the beginning,” says Read, who also gave Thom a conducting lesson so he could conduct the concert hall’s very first piece — O Canada. “It was unlike any other space in the city, and it had a world-class presence.”

UBC Faculty of Arts Associate Dean Don Paterson and UBC Project Manager John Anderson played instrumental roles in envisioning and realizing the project, which marked an enormous step forward for the university.

“It represented the dreams of everyone beforehand, including Harry Adaskin, who started the School of Music in 1959,” says Read. “It had all the pride you get in a pivotal moment, when you’ve built toward something and then you see it finished, and you’re moving to the next stage. It was a stepping stone, and something that simply pushed us into another world.”

That push continues to this day. The school now boasts a 110-member symphony orchestra, symphonic wind and concert wind ensembles, an opera ensemble, and five choirs — including the 200-member Choral Union — as well as several smaller chamber groups that regularly perform high-calibre concerts at the Chan Centre.

“This beautiful place embodies our sense of community in every way: students come together in shared aspiration; faculty and students work together in shared accomplishment; and performers and audience members gather together in shared excitement and delight,” wrote current UBC School of Music Director Richard Kurth in the concert program marking the centre’s 20thanniversary.

“The wonderful acoustics allow us to hear our dreams, and to refine them.”